Friday, 24 August 2012


So no talk of running this post, but just a relating of my (second) yearly Edinburgh Fringe trip. I had good intentions and took along my running gear - however I found that I'd neglected to pack my trainers, probably one of the more vital parts of kit, and I wasn't running anywhere dap-less. So I came to the necessary conclusion that lots of walking was good enough to suffice. Snort.

Just over 3 days of heady Edinburgh glory - starting each day with a spring in my step, optimism in my heart and skipping down to Grassmarket.... ending each day trudging up the hill towards Haymarket, weighed down by flyers and trying to figure out how I felt about serious things like suicide and lyrical poets.

The thing that I (along with almost everyone else) love about the Fringe is the complete departure from the normal things I would choose to go and see. Sure, the comedy brings me in, but it's all the theatre and dancing and that that I stay for. Along with the good company. And the comedy.

The only downside of the trip was the travel through Cardiff "International" Airport, which was yet again another exercise in frustration and misery. More about that in the next post, no doubt!

This year I saw a broader and more numerous selection of shows than last year, but I can definitely do better with more advance planning. Edinburgh 2013 will be EVEN MORE jam-packed and emotionally confused than 2012. The selection of shows I saw this year were:

The Booking Dance Festival Split Bill - consisting of the Hammerstep Dance Company performing some pretty impressive tap/Irish dancing/street dance fusion complete with beatboxing, and The Dallas Black Dance Theatre, with a piece inspired by a poem about painting black angels (as opposed to white ones), and a really beautiful ballet portraying some important moments of the wonderful Nina Simone's life, set to her music, and brilliantly narrated (I assume from her autobiography). This was just stupendous and gave me a glimpse of what an amazing life she led - I walked away thinking that I'd better that autobiography to my to-read pile before I forget about it.

I then when to meet my lovely host Sally to go to Caesarean Section - Essays on Suicide which was very absorbing - some amazing singing - I call it singing but it was more like emoting through vocalisation - quite primaeval at some points. It was really amazing, but I have to say, I wasn't really sure what was going on a lot of the time. There were three cast members actually moving around (as opposed to singing, playing instruments and percussing the whole affair) and I was constantly confused as to which one was trying to commit suicide and in which context the other two related to them. I think this is largely due to the I'm basically used to a very straightforward narrative, like in films, and am not particularly adept at following stories when there isn't that same kind of linear progression. I did massively enjoy it, however!

Following that, after a watching a triptych of ultra-slow-motion film clips of (mostly naked) people doing various things, which was really hypnotising, we gatecrashed a lovely wine reception where most of the people were really friendly, the wine was deeeeeeeeeeelicious and the view if Edinburgh was spectacular. Then we walked home and got proper chips on the way. Nom.

Sunday morning and my first port of call was Tony Law's Maximum Nonsense. As per, @mrtonylaw didn't fail to impress. The show culminated in a lovely song sung by various elephants, as we, the adoring, flag-waving crowd, were surrounded by spinning elephants fashioned out of neon-coloured plasticine. I can't say too much about Mr Tony Law. I envy his "twin 3-yr-old obnoxious troll" children that they get to grow up with a dad that probably, probably, might be as good as mine. If he tours, I might just go and see this show again. Brilliant.

Sunday evening, after a lovely Japanese meal at Bonsai I went to see Jayde Adams is Master of None which was a delightfully bonkers show which deserved a much bigger audience than it got on that night. Jayde used to manage my local quirky cocktail bar before heading off to London to make her name as a comedian. She was always really funny when I spoke to her so I thought I'd check out what she was like on stage. I was a little trepidatious but she was brilliant. The show was a discombobulated train ride through balloon modelling, malicious childhood nativity re-enactment, and videos - I think my favourite bit may have been the manically-fast interpretation of a massive bunch of music videos. She runs a comedy night in Shoreditch called The Painted Grin - should be pretty hila-ma-larious if her show is anything to go by.

Monday morning (ish) saw me head to a hip-hop hip-hop imagining of Shakespeare's Othello which was wonderfully interpreted through the use of lyrical poetry (I am using this as a fancy way to say: rap). All the highs and emotional bits and the miserable inevitability of a Shakespeare play, but pretty different than the last time I went through it (a bunch of bored/embarrassed 15 year olds reading it out in a South London comprehensive).

I tried to see the Oxford Imps improvisation show but unfortunately I didn't realise that Othello was 75 minutes long and they wouldn't let me in because I was late. I was a bit miffed - I could understand if it was a big intense play, but - improvisation? Hmmm.

After than was Nick Helm's This Means War, to which I went with a hastily arranged date (with the lovely Lloyd) since apparently this is a show you cannot go to alone. It was bloody hilarious, especially considering I was there are a 5 minute clip from Russell Howard's TV show. Which I have re-watched too many times to admit to here. My favourite bit of THIS show was when he had a break down in the middle of the floor and started crying to the audience member that he had pulled up and made to peel potatoes. AAAahahahahaha crying! It's funny!

Also that evening I spent a bit of time watching "graduates" from a comedy school - they had about 10 minutes each and there were some very funny people in there, so eyes out for them in the future, so I can yell obnoxiously "I SAW THEM WHEN THEY WERE REALLY NEW AND YOUNG AND TERRIBLY NERVOUS!". I had to leave halfway through, sadly, as I had to get over to The Caves on Grassmarket to watch the brilliantly dry Henning Wehn - in his own words, the most successful comedian, because either he makes people laugh, or he confirms a national stereotype. I like him because he asked my which Olympic events I went to and then blamed me for the ticket shortage, then everyone laughed at me which totes makes me populair.

The next morning was my last day, so I headed to the box office and picked up a bit of a lucky dip of tickets - I went to see Ride of the Bluebottles which was a really enjoyable and mostly funny play about a terrible band, Peter Panic which was a mildly dystopian and warped imagining of what would happen if Peter Pan came back and Wendy was an adult and married to the Prime Minister in a version of the UK that was being ripped apart by rioting. I can say that this was the weirdest thing I went along to watch, and I think most of the audience felt the same. There was a lot of confusion to be heard walking out of that theatre. But my favourite show of the last day was Sad Faces Remember It Differently, which was possibly my favourite show of the lot. Effing brilliant - a great premise, four very gifted comic actors, brilliant scripting wit the cracked like the lovechild of brittle toffee and lightning. Fantastic, and hopefully they will be back on Radio 4 Extra sometime soon - I CAN'T WAIT!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Garmin Forerunner 410

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I decided to get myself a lovely GPS running watch in order to make recording my running easier (My love of spreadsheets knows no bounds), and hopefully be an important motivator in getting me out and running when I really didn't feel like it.

I managed to find a really good deal on the Garmin Forerunner 410, which had some great reviews, the majority of which seemed to be most excited about the fact that the bezel on the 410 was much better than that on the 405CX. Since this is my first running watch, I really don't have anything to compare it to, but sure enough, the bezel works very well. No complaints about the bezel here!

The main display is easily customisable - I like to have the basic three: distance, time and heart rate. There are apparently 30 different metrics you can choose to display, but I really only rely on these 3. They can be jigged around too - at the moment I have the time as the largest in the main display, but I may change this as I find it pretty distracting. I keep trying to work out my pace whilst running. This is all the more pointless, as this is a built-in function -Virtual Partner - that allows you to check your run against an imaginary friend running at a pre-set pace, who smugly informs you of how far in distance and time you are behind them. This is a great motivator for putting in that little bit extra at the end of the run to improve your overall run pace.

GPS Accuracy
The product description revels in how quickly it finds GPS signals, but actually I've had some problems with this. I have to stand outside my door for a minute or so before my position is pinpointed to within 10 or 15 metres. For a few runs, I didn't bother waiting - unfortunately this resulted in fairly considerable inaccuracies in run distance. Before I got the watch, I was running the same routes over and and over, and I had mapped them out of the brilliant Map My Run, using satellite imagery - when uploading,the route onto a map, parts sometimes bears little relation to what I think I've run, and the start point is a fair distance from my house. This resulted in the same runs coming out at 100+metres shorter - maybe not a considerable difference, but the marginal gains in my pace are easily wiped out by such errors, and I rely on marginal gains to keep me motivated!

Another possible reason for errors is the auto-pause function. This is really useful when you stop at roads (or to clean up after your dog), but there is a short interlude between you starting up again and the timer starting up - I'm not sure how the software deals with these gaps in the route, so this might be where some errors creep in.

The watch isn't waterproof, but it is shower-proof. It proved its mettle in this regard a few weeks ago, when, having no other option, I headed out in the pouring rain (on the morning of my birthday barbecue, after being assured that Paula Radcliffe doesn't say "Oh, it's raining. Sod that!"). I was soaked to the skin before I ever started running, and the watch was absolutely fine - so I can definitely vouch for this claim!

Calorie Calcualtion
Also included is calorie calculation - this is done one of three ways: the most basic is a simple weight/distance/elevation/speed calculation. The second one - the option that I use - utilises the heart rate monitor, using your heart-rate for a slightly more complicated (and presumably more accurate) calculation. If you're really keen, you can go to one of a specific few centres where they calculate your VOx and metabolism, according to whichever set of criteria they deem the best, and your watch then uses this information along with your heart rate to give you an ostensibly more accurate again figure. I'm not really interested in calories (once I start running regularly, I tend to find I don't eat much more & over compensate) so I use the middle option, since I'm interested in my heart rate anyway.

Wireless Data Transfer & Software
Data transfer is the easiest thing in the world - after going through the fuss of finding the necessary driver and linking them up the first time, all subsequent watch-computer-internet communication happens without any intervention on behalf of the user. Users need to sign up to Garmin's online service, which allows each route to be uploaded to an online database which will give you all the information you require. So far, I have not been able to find any way to store the results except online, which is a bit annoying. I did download the recommended software for Garmin, but it quickly became apparent that to get anything useful from it, I'd actually have to buy a copy. I may do this if, at some point in the future I feel I need analysis more extensive that that offered by Garmin & MMR.

Effect on my running
I'd definitely say that having the watch has improved my running - perhaps not quite as much as I had expected, but there have been times when I may not have run 40 minutes required by my schedule, as my apathy would not have overcome figuring out a route on MMR, and making sure to run it - with the watch, I just slap it on and head out. Yesterday was the first time this didn't work to plan, as I'd neglected to charge it, and so just had to follow a pre-determined route and roughly keep track of my time.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the Forerunner 410 - slightly lacking in accuracy, perhaps, but it looks lovely, works well most of the time, and is small enough that it's easy to forget it's there once it's on. It makes keeping track of progress really easy, and offers tonnes of added extras if you're really into your data analysis. I'm looking forward to using the navigation function and possibly starting to use other metrics, as well as trialling use on my bike as well. Excellent!

Monday, 9 July 2012


So; my first milestone is less than a week away. On Saturday morning, I will run the Cardiff Race for Life 10 km. It's not my main goal, but it is an important stepping-stone objective towards completing the half-marathon for which all this training is aimed, in October.

My training was going very well - I started running 4 times a week, including a longer run at weekends, and still managing to do other exertion-related activities, such as a 25 mile bike ride to the beach, and (almost) weekly circuits classes. However, I have found the strength of my motivation to be fairly undulating. I want to say; "like a rollercoaster"; but that implies sudden changes, speed, and much more fun..!

Early on, as I was began to pay attention to my training plan, it was very difficult to persuade myself that I a) could and b) wanted to run four times a week. After a couple weeks of persuasion from both me, and those around me, I managed to do a couple of weeks of the full amount of training that I had set myself. I thought I'd cracked it, and I was very pleased with myself.

Sadly, it was not to continue.

A number of factors have concerted to create obstacles (both actual and perceived) - some family issues, busy weekends, muscle fatigue, rubbish weather, slight illness and a less-than-ideally regimented diet (this is an ongoing concern and one that I will blog about in the future - once I figure it out!) have left me feeling a little washed out and, critically, not motivated enough to get out there and hit the road as much as I need to. I am telling myself right now that I can make all the excuses that I want: the fact is that I won't be able to do this run in the time that I wanted to. That's a bit disappointing - but failure can be more important than success in many situations, and I need to take that annoyance at myself and channel it into positive internal motivation, as I begin training for the biggie.

The positive summation of the last few weeks is: I've consistently been running longer distances at regular intervals (I've only missed one weekend run so far), my average speed is going up slightly, and coupled with the previous fact, this is even better than it seems. I have managed to overcome the internal naysayer on many runs (that niggling voice that says "you'd better just turn back now, otherwise you're going to be CRAWLING home!") . I'm already noticing the weight loss, and how the first couple of km at least feel much easier than they used to. I've really enjoyed being outside on a few of the runs, despite one run in a massive downpour, for which I was soaked to the skin for the entire 11km, and another where I inadvertently ended up splashing through very muddy puddles. So far I have managed to avoid any kind of injury - whilst parts of me niggle during runs, they are never the same parts on consecutive runs. And I've got the hang of my running watch, pretty much - which will be another post that hopefully writes itself!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A tale of good intentions

Good intentions were so nearly borne out last week! Runs timetabled looked like this:

Mon: 4.8km easy
Tues: 30 min pace
Thurs: 30 min easy
Sat: 8km

Actual runs looked like: Monday, TICK! Tuesday, TICK! Thursday, uuuurgh, TICK! Saturday, WOOPWOOP, mah sister is in TOWN and we are going to celebrate the jubilee by drinking and eating patriotically-coloured M&Ms!! So the good intentions struggled, and compromised on Sunday. However, the persistent summer rain on Sunday put paid to all that nonsense, and the 8km was bumped to Monday (actually was 7.5) & followed up with a 5km run Weds. This was a bit disappointing - whilst I kept to a reasonable steady pace for both runs, and manage to prolong the time I ran before walking to about 23 minutes, I did this at the expense of average speed. It seems counter-intuitive that I would end up going slower if I keep running, but I suppose this is just a fluctuation that should be sorted out as my training continues and I manage increase both pace and my jog-to-walk ratio.

The main issue yesterday seemed to be the outside sides of my thighs, which hopefully is just overuse and not Iliotibial band syndrome (It's hard not to be a hypochondriac when looking at medical information online). The thing which caught my attention is the propensity of flat-footed runners to experience this - I am very flat-footed and over-pronate (my foot rolls inwards). When it's muddy, I somehow always end up with a great splash of mud on my ankles or trousers from kicking it up with my wonky feet. I did buy nice fancy trainers from Run & Become which seem to have helped a bit, but I was a little worried at this new pain - however, whilst I could feel a concentrated ache running up both thighs for most of the day afterwards, it seems to have faded almost entirely now.

Happily, today is a rest day (and my birthday :-D) so I will take a walk and do a little yoga, eat plenty of cake and have a little cava and I reckon that should sort things out. I'm off to London for the weekend, and my training plan demands a 9.5 km run and a 30 minute "pace" run - no idea when I'm going to fit them in with the rain and the travelling. I've a few 5-ish km runs recorded with MapMyRun around where my sister lives, but what would REALLY help me out would be a GPS running watch - for which I am planning to pony up the money. I am undecided so far but Garmin seem to get consistently good reviews. I've been looking at either the 305 and the 405CX, but that'll quite possibly change before I manage to click that "Buy" button.... will report on developments as they arise....

Monday, 28 May 2012

Tend your own gardens

I like to refer to myself as a pragmatic Green. The reason that I use the modifier is because I like to base my world view on reliable sources, and do not feel the need to exhibit the hysterical and knee-jerk behaviour recently exhibited by "activists" who took part in Take the Flour Back’s recent "decontamination picnic" demonstration against Rothamsted Research - the oldest agricultural research facility in the world. The anger and frustration that I feel when reading their justification of intended vandalism is made all the more bitter by being mixed with sadness from the dawning realisation that potentially, with allies like these, the struggle to reduce the magnitude of anthropogenic climate change is an even more insurmountable task than I had previously realised – which is saying something.

How, I ask, in all earnestness, can you cite the (crushingly overwhelming weight) of scientific support for the biggest problem ever to confront the human race, whilst simultaneously denying the weight of research in other areas, such as nuclear fission and GM crops? Personally, I didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about GM crops - there are many questions which are as yet unanswered, which is the strongest argument for ENCOURAGING research rather than destroying it. However, in my frustration I have ended up reading quite a bit and as I have gathered knowledge this area, it's become less of a mysterious, occluded and vaguely threatening enigma (with overtones of comic-book-style mutations) and I've moved steadily in the pro-GM direction.

There are scientific and emotive arguments on both sides, and it is important to consider these - but not endlessly. Once concerns have been addressed, a spectator without bias should theoretically change their view. However, when the most scientific summation of protesters' concerns (here) is speedily and roundly rubbished (in the comments section, especially Matthew Cooper) will this change a made-up mind? Doubtful. My previously unmade-up mind has been made by sound (i.e. I haven't seen them convincingly refuted) arguments for the research (or, at least against destroying it which is really the case in point here) that litter the web, from a rebuttal by the head of the project in The Telegraph, views in The Spectator, and those of similarly frustrated Greens, and elsewhere; for those who have not seen them, here is a short summary:

Contamination: The statistics are quoted and explained elsewhere, but as far as I can make out, whilst this is possible, it is so unlikely as to be almost negligible, as wheat is around 99% self-pollinated. Nevertheless, relevant precautions are taken, and thus around each field there is a minimum of a 33 m barrier, including a wheat “pollen barrier” between this and any other cereal crops or couch grass (the only known wild plant able to cross-pollinate with wheat).

Immoral bioscience corporations: this is the only anti-GM argument which I put any weight in, and it is an important question: Will the results of the trial be used protectively by large corporations interested only in their own profit margins; the answer is a simple “No”:

Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost.”

This is the beauty of governmental funding for research, which has been such a strength of the UK.

Health effects:

“There's uncertainty about the health effect of this - there's been no adequate long-term health safety testing”

So there’s a lack of research in this area, is what you’re saying? And the answer to this is to destroy research in progress?! Health effects of GM crops are routinely trotted out to make an argument. If you think you are at risk from DNA within the plants, let me ask you this: Have you ever found DNA from your food affect you in any way? Symptoms such as sprouting feathers after eating a lot of poultry, or becoming rounder and redder in August when the tomato plants are fruiting and you eat several kilos a day? Maybe there are more complex questions here that are not being clearly asked – but spouting off about health effects without being specific is just propagating misinformation which serves nobody’s best interests.

I was brought up by a scientist and a green, who was one of the most unselfish and caring people I've met, believing in the better world which will come through advancement of knowledge. Despite this idea that science is inherently "male" (fundamentally so, rather than in the abysmal ratio of female to male scientists), I would argue that this is absolute rubbish - "science" is a much wider concept than is regularly appreciated, and is the only way to reliably pass on knowledge from one person/group of people/generation to another. A scientific mind is one that will build an opinion on the world around a firm foundation of demonstrable facts. If some of your facts later turn out to be false, part of your foundation begins to weaken, and you are required to rebuild it. There are too many things in the world for one person to reliably develop scientific opinions about; this is what research is for; checking the strength of these foundations, and proposing ways to rebuild if necessary. If I saw any kind of anti-GM arguments supported by a weight of research without the need for cherry-picking or blurring with misinformation and ill-defined fears, I would allow it to have an effect on my opinion - because of that "pragmatic" modifier that I use above. Far from fulfilling this gap, the group has refused to engage in honest and open debate with the scientists: I can only assume that this is borne out of an active unwillingness to confront the facts, and the normal people explaining those facts, that might force a re-address of one’s worldview. To this I would say: if you are afraid, and so you either fail to listen to the arguments of the other side, or do listen but do not allow them any traction on your opinion, you are apt to end up with a half-crumbled sandcastle of a view, which is not conducive to solving the much larger, Earth-shattering problems with which we are confronted.

Please sign the petition if you support unbiased knowledge: Sense about Science petition,

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It's what time already?!

Argh! What a few weeks - a combination of work trips, long days and illness I've finally found the time to think about writing and starting my training - and just in time. I found, to my slightly aghast surprise, that my proposed training scheme begins this week. I'm actually a little disappointed as I was hoping to have a couple of weeks of doing other things, like a couple of classes (more below), some swimming and cycling, without having to take into account fitting in a certain amount of required running. However, now it looks like I'm just going to have to fit it all in. My BF will be pleased when he finds out he's going to have to a) cook my dinner, b) do with less of my company and c) watch me begin to force-feed myself high-protein foods. What a lucky, lucky man.

The first week's schedule is thus:
Monday: 3.2 km easy
Tuesday: 30 mins tempo
Thursday: 30 mins easy
Saturday: 4km

However, since I have managed to start the week incorrectly, it'll be more like this:
Monday: 5km/34 min + circuits class
Wednesday: Fitness yoga
Thursday: 30 mins tempo
Saturday: 5km

A poor substitute possibly, but what can you do? Next week I will toe the line - that is my promise to 10-kilometre-Angharad. She have some choice words for May-Angharad if not....

Today I am happily aching from attending circuits last night. This is a great class for anyone who enjoys pummelling themselves into the ground, sweating beyond any level of decency, and staring at their class partner with a look that incorporates many emotions: tiredness, pain, resentment, fear of collapse and/or death. I go to this class because for some reason, I take the sign that I have very poor upper-body strength to mean that I should attend a class in which the instructor's predilection for push ups in a variety of guises (and who knew there were so many?*) verges on obsession. Also because, when my mate asks me if I want to join her, I can't say no because then I would be a wimp. A giant, lazy, wimp. I have been said wimp for a while, and haven't been for several months. MAN and I'm paying for it now. However, the last time I frequented this class for sustained amount of time, I really did notice the difference to my arms within a few sessions, so given the complete lack of upper-body training in the rest of my life, I guess I'm just going to have to write it in the Filofax (yes, a real Filofax) every Monday from here onwards. I'd cheer, but I'm afraid I haven't the energy.

Bye then. I'm off to lie down for a bit, in order that I might rest my arms sufficiently to make dinner...

*push ups, planks, side planks, burpees (THESE ARE THE WORST THINGS EVER INVENTED!), push-up-and-row, 5 push ups and sprint, sprint starts, tricep dips, squat thrusts....

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Once more unto the.....

Despite an attempt to soundtrack my life with a musical score by Paul Simon (Mainly Graceland, obvs, but also Rhythm of the Saints), the bubbling over of positivity and motivation is fails to last more than a few minutes, and I'm finding it really hard to actually begin running again...

I've had the odd run since the winter, but nothing that resembles any kind of regular commitment. When I'm into a running schedule, there's nothing easier then getting up and outside, in the mornings, when I'm home from work, lazy sundays, whenever. When I haven't been running, the excuses are plentiful: my knee, my self-conciousness, my hair, I'll somehow manage to convince myself that a 5 km run can be equated by half an hour of cleaning my kitchen. I've drawn up a training scheme, the first part of which begins officially in May but I'd like to be running 2-3 times a week before I start that. However, at the moment I feel massively fatigued. I've had a couple of busy weeks but I still feel that I'm more tired than I should be - especially as the springtime is usually when I feel at my very best.

I'm possibly being a little hard on myself as I was in loco parentis of two (sometimes three) dogs last week and consequently walked over 25+ km in the space of a week, which is not to be sniffed at. However, walking is one thing (and one thing that seems to result in inordinate tiredness....), actually running is another, and my mind appears to be interpreting for my body, and making it sound like a teenager: "Guuuuuuuuh.... I'm TOO TIRED!". It does literally feel like my legs are full of concrete whenever I entertain the notion of popping out. And even when that's not the case, all those other excuses pop up. It doesn't matter how much I tell myself how good I will feel afterwards, or promise myself ice cream, or how certain I am of how ineffably easier it will be to continue than it was to start. Basically, I need something to force me to get out and pound the path around Roath Lake. Happily, there is brightness on today's rainy horizon: Wednesday is my day to walk Spud the collie, who needs to lead, loves running and won't take the piss out of me when I stopped jogging halfway round the route. So this evening, come rain come shine, I will be, in all my bright pink-faced glory, panting my way with a stony expression, past the swans, geese, ducks and pedalos to a new, bright future, the main difference of which is that it contains me running more frequently. Rome wasn't built in a day, people.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Exploring places that I think I know

So it's been a unpromising couple of weeks. And by unpromising I mean: I have not been for one run. I have managed a couple of walks though - this is my only achievement in the running stakes.

However I do have a reasonably good excuse that isn't (directly) related to excessive chocolate intake - I was hosting a week-long tour of Americans (two of them). I met John whilst I was travelling in China (where he was working as a school teacher) with two of my friends, and we all four of us spent many nights up together sharing stories about the significantly different places that we had grown up. I was lucky enough to go and visit him in South Carolina last year, and the favour was returned (by whom I am unsure). I had raved about how beautiful the countryside and the coast of Wales are, and I was pretty chuffed that even my descriptions hadn't prepared the two of them for some of the most breath-taking and dramatic scenery that the UK has to offer, if not the world. It's a bit of an assumption that we as a country do not have particularly amazing beaches, and if your UK beach trips have been limited to the South Coast, this is understandable. But in fact, we (not just Wales) have a wealth of amazing beaches of various types with stunning vistas, quirky wildlife and fantastic surf - I guess it's just the weather that limits enjoyment. Our trip took in Gower, the Brecon Beacons, honey ice cream in Aberaeron, Southern Snowdonia (including the cottage where Led Zeppelin wrote a number of their songs, Bron-Yr-Aur), North Wales, the Midlands, Cardiff, Bath and London. Going on an adventure in my own locality was one of the best decisions I've made recently, and the chance to get to see everything that I know so well through new eyes was an opportunity that came as a complete surprise, and reminded me how proud I am of all the places I am from specifically, and from the country I am from in general. Nothing like a little sunshine (and pouring rain and snow flurries) to help one see things in a more positive light.

This may not be a great revelation to everyone else, but it's a reassuring one to me. Paradoxically, it seems to me, that whilst the world is getting ever smaller, your own areas are actually much much bigger that most people might realise. There's a massive wealth of things to discover practically on your doorstep, from the best bread in the city to real-life wildlife displays (red kits, hawks attacking crows, lambing, wild horses scratching behind their ears, and the most massive pig you've ever seen in your entire life) to a B&B that's been in the same family for 500 years.

So that's me for today, I'm off to plan my now-cemented desire to take a long weekend cycling around Northumberland this summer. The next post will hopefully be about how I'm channelling this optimism, via lots of Paul Simon, into tackling my training regime, which is now extant, with gusto.

Enjoy where you live!

No matter how many times I walk it, I still love Garn Goch:

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Leg stretching and dog-exhausting

 In honour of the splendiferous weather, and to avoid jumping straight into any kind of training regime, I took Bronwen, who is temporarily in my care, out for a walk along the Taff Trail. Initially I just thought I'd wander round the parks but it was absolutely rammed. Whilst I've no fear about her behaviour per se, she doesn't really pay any attention to anyone else around, walking, running OR cycling, so not wanted to leave anyone with severe falling-/tripping-related injuries, I thought I'd wander in the direction of Castell Coch, which resulted in a 12.1 km long walk, in around 2.5 hours. Bronwen was ecstatic to be out, running around like only a collie can. I was a little worried at one point ans she started to go into a sheepdog-like crouch when we came in sight of some small fluffy white dogs. Luckily I managed to distract her with a stick - which quickly turned into a series of sticks of various shapes and sizes:

Each of which was as proudly loved as the last. She can get embarrassingly frantic about sticks, shrieking and barking until you throw them. Luckily she seemed to enjoy carrying the stick almost as much as chasing after it today. For a collie, Bronwen is inordinately fond of water (thanks to her spaniel older brother), and a couple of times leapt bodily from the bank into deep water after a stick (one time I unfortunately misjudged the steepness of the bank and had to get down on my hands and knees and yank her out, much to the amusement of some passers-by...). Happily, for my peace of mind, more stickchasing was done in a more sedate manner:

Post stick-collection, at least three thorough shakes are required.... otherwise you ended up with a bedraggled lump of ginger fur....

She's now conked out at my feet - I would be proud that I'd outwalked a collie but to be honest, she probably went about three times as far as did I, with the odd spot of swimming too. But she remained zoned long enough for me to plant some marigolds - for the nematodes - apparently they're good for protecting just about any veggies?

Congratultations to the Scarlets, who we watched beat the Cardiff Blues yesterday evening, accompanied by some lovely choral singing, including Calon Lan and Yma o Hyd, Cwm Rhondda and of course, Delilah. Llongyfarchiadau, Y Scarlets!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Second step on a 13.1 mile journey

Once again I'm dipping my toes into the blogosphere (previous travel blog here) although sadly I'm no longer travelling around the world, so I suppose I will have to up the stakes in terms of actual writing quality.

I decided to start this blog as I've recently taken a decision to achieve what until recently I would have assumed to be impossible, and run the 2012 Cardiff Half Marathon. This may not seem a big step but for years I have assumed I am lazy, overweight and incapable of achieving significant physical milestones such as this. I did a 5 km run years ago when I was first told I should lose weight, and it worked, and massively improved the way in which I see myself. But I never would have run longer distances - 5 k or 30 minutes was really my limit.

Then, a couple of years ago, the unthinkable happened and my wonderful father, to whom I was extremely close, died suddenly in a freak hot-air balloon accident. It sounds like ridiculous fiction; it's true. This is not the post in which to write how I felt about that - maybe that will come in the future. However, suffice to say, I found one of the only things that would let me escape my own internal monologue was completely exhausting myself through running, and so I took it up again.

For the last 2 years or so I have kept a spreadsheet with my speeds and distances, because that is the kind of dork I am (and proud of it) so I can track my improvements, which are small but significant.

Last year I entered the Race for Life 10 km in Clapham, London. Unfortunately, the course was messed up and I didn't actually end up running the full distance. Not achieving my very simple goal (RUN TEN KILOMETRES, IDEALLY IN SIXTY MINUTES!) just meant that I promptly had to enter another race in Cardiff. This one I completed, in 67 minutes. The very fact that this was achievable set me to wondering whether all the people who had exclaimed to me how surprisingly easy it was to run 13.1 miles may actually be right in assuming that the same might be the case for me. So it was that 3 days ago I finally bit the bullet and entered myself and my wonderous friend Sophie into the Cardiff half.

It's a long time away however (7 months and counting), so I need to get a ball of motivation rolling, and build up such momentum that I can hit my targets and achieve the formerly-impossible. To help me in that, I've decided to write about my next few months, including the highs and the lows and various & numerous opinions about the world, even if it's just for my own personal posterity. Alright, mine and my mum's....